Travel, oddly enough, is often a quest for rootedness and connection.
The travelers who penned the outstanding stories that feature in this week’s edition of Tales From the Road all seem to be in search of a single moment when they feel at home in the world, in tune with the music of the universe.
For Adam Karlin that moment comes under a banyan tree at the most sacred temple in Burma.
For Peter Develett it comes on acid in Tokyo, gazing at the lucid moon.
For Bruce Northam it comes after days of deprivation in the Utah desert, and then again on a sidewalk in Scotland.
Becky Timbers finds peace with sea turtles off the coast of Maui, and Mark Jenkins finds a window into the sky when a trucker stops to give him a lift on a stretch of lonesome highway.
As I write here in Buenos Aires, day-dreaming of the cabin I want to build in Vermont, it seems silly how we travelers race around the world, deliberately courting hardship and uncertainty in our search for connection.
Maybe it is only by breaking away from our familiar realities that we are able to place them in context, to take the moments of beauty we find on our travels and stitch them into something that resembles home.
Enjoy the stories.
1. “Under The Banyan Tree” by Adam Karlin
It’s been months since the military regime of Burma murdered Buddhist monks who were marching for political reform.
In this lovingly crafted travelogue, Adam Karlin takes us back to the streets of Yangon, still in the grip of stultifying repression but also overgrown with the richness of life. The narrative culminates with Adam kneeling on cool marble under a banyan tree at Shwedagon temple, a scene that unexpectedly made my eyes well up with tears.
2. “Strange Children” by Peter Delevett
“We’re at Tokyo Disneyland when I drop acid for the first time.” So begins Peter Delevett’s trip through Tokyo, a blur of drug-fueled epiphany that reads like a strange hybrid of Hunter S. Thompson and the haiku master Basho.
Everything in the story is “fresh and deep and meaningful” but also tinged with sadness and anomie as Peter grasps for the shining moon and sleeps on a gravestone.
3. “Do More With Less: Survival, Then Surviving Scotch” by Bruce Northam
Bruce Northam starves himself for two weeks in the brutal wilderness of the Utah canyonlands, then hops on a plane for Scotland to sip single-malt whiskey in a luxury highland lodge. It’s hard to say which experience is more strange – opposite ends of the weird reality of the world today.
4. “Life Is A Journey: Learn From The Sea Turtles And Take It Slow” by Becky Timbers
Ku Ku Kachoo, little dude! Becky Timbers hangs out with sea turtles off the coast of Maui and remembers to relax, take life slow, and just float at ease like the “Buddhas of the ocean”.
5. Hitching by Mark Jenkins
Mark Jenkins takes us along on a journey by thumb down the spine of the Rocky Mountains.
Most of the stories Jenkins writes are dispatches from high mountains in distant lands, but the ordinary Americans who feature in his highway tale are just as carefully rendered as the Burmese soldiers and Tibetan monks he usually describes.
The story ends with the most lyrical line I’ve read all week, like the the best of Jack Kerouac –
We made it to Santa Fe in two hours, riding through the velvet desert counting shooting stars.
Sea turtle photo by Becky Timbers